Apple TV Service: Only in Dreams

Ever since the announcement of Apple Music, and Beats 1, Twitter has been atwitter with discussion over what this could mean for Apple’s oft-delayed TV and Film efforts. I’m still relatively certain that the most probable outcome is that Apple will merely empower broadcasters, and studios, to setup their own apps with content services with rich, multi-media experiences. I don’t think it’s going to be as dramatic a shift as some are forecasting. More of a transition away from cable boxes, to Apple TV boxes, with a limited set of services that more or less mirrors the kind of television metaphors North American audiences are used to. (Including ads.)

That’s not as much fun as Apple taking on curation authority and crafting the whole experience of interacting with the content. So let’s entertain some of the farther-fetched ideas. Only in dreams, we see what it means…

Programming

No, not Swift, not even Taylor Swift, but the thing everyone calls “curation”. It’s not really a museum, it’s selecting, and placing, multiple pieces of entertainment in a linear order. Even Apple Music’s playlists are a form of programming, even though they aren’t “on the air”. Beats 1 is all about linear programming. Calling it curation just makes it sound so much more artistic.

A piece of content can also frame other programming inside of it. Like when a DJ’s block starts on a radio station, or on Beats 1, and they provide the frame around the songs that are played. TV has similar vehicles, with MTV’s VJ’s in the 80s and 90s being the closest approximation. There are also those monster-movie blocks, with Elvira, or Dr. Paul Bearer. There’s that guy in a suit on TCM, or even a disembodied voice on PBS’ Masterpiece Theatre. Even something like VH1’s old Pop-Up Video program puts the framing inside of the media as an overlay.

While there is a certain silliness to that kind of framing on television (it’s often done with very inexpensive sets, and very inexpensive to license media) there can be an element to it that many find valuable. There was a bit of time where social media feedback ran in tickers around the screen in order to get people to tune in to provide the frame for the inexpensive movie or show.

In terms of taste, I’m not sure I buy in to that kind of execution from Apple. I could see, perhaps, the VJs, since there are musical minds at play at Apple, and music videos are still popular online, even if they aren’t on the garbage station MTV turned into.

That’s a very tiny slice of programming, for a very specific thing. Audiences are mostly favoring consumption of serialized, hour-long dramas with short seasons these days. Would Apple license marathons? Unlikely. Would they program their own TV channel to showcase programming from different sources? How would CBS feel about mixing their shows with AMC and FX? TV is very unlike radio in this regard. Zane Lowe has the luxury to pick and choose from labels.

This could be possible with film. There could be an AMC-like host, or a FX “At the Movies” set of hosts, discussing what people are about to see, maybe some interviews with stars, and directors. It’s certainly been done before, and it’s possible to buy the rights to broadcast films on a TV channel from a variety of studios.

That means that in our list of hypothetical formats we have MTV VJs, and people introducing movies — both on linear, live, video.

(If anyone at Apple is reading this, and they need some volunteer film buffs, please, get in touch, I’m totes down for this bananas plan!)

How do you satisfy network TV in a way that doesn’t turn over authorship to the networks? They would have to select off-the-air TV, like Netflix and Amazon, or they’d have to finance their own TV production, like Netflix, and Amazon.

Apple Studios

This is the part I can’t ever see happening as long as we’re in a business climate where the large broadcasters have content people want to watch. Really, I think this isn’t feasible. The second Apple opens up shop and starts financing pilots for TV shows, the broadcast networks are going to start pulling their shows from sale on iTunes, and any collaborating with Apple on a streaming OTT service will cease.

Apple absolutely has the money to do it, but they would have to do all of it. This isn’t like Beats 1, this is like Apple producing all the artists you hear on Beats 1. Totally different situation. Totally different skillset, and a real commitment to something that isn’t Apple’s primary goal.

Sure, anything’s possible, but it would be an enormous leap to go it alone on TV production just to sell phones and TV set-top boxes. Pragmatism would dictate trying to create the same, comfortable TV metaphors and associations, but with a better user experience. That means the networks.

Netflix started their own film studio, but the theater chains are refusing to show Netflix’s films in their theaters because Netflix will show them day-and-date on the service and in theaters. It hasn’t stopped Netflix from moving forward, with Netflix’s Ted Sarandos vowing to release more films. It certainly wouldn’t stop Apple, but it just means Apple needs to really be focused on this.

The Little Fish

Something more likely than Apple starting up studio operations, is providing funding, training, tools, and promotion for independent productions.

Let’s say you’re in film school, and you have a great idea for a film, you pitch it to Apple for a grant, receive it, and create the video, available for Apple’s video service. Apple doesn’t like to directly fund people (see app developers) so it might be some sort of VC fund thingy. Whatevs. Money stuff.

Another possibility is training people to perform, and manage the tasks required for their independent productions. Like WWDC, but for an Apple-focused production, and publishing suite of tools. Now imagine it’s also sort of like a cross between SXSW , NAB, and SIGGRAPH. There’s a showcase of the previous years’ work, panels, camera vendors, motion tracking vendors, lighting rigs. Hopefully it would have good food too, that would be nice.

In terms of tools, Apple has ceded most of the ground it had in the mid 2000s when they bought up, or internally developed, all the top-tier pro software they could. Tools that rivaled what Adobe and Avid had at the time. Then everything has slowly been withering up since then. Replaced mostly with an emphasis on inexpensive, third-party apps that are more specific in the tasks they do, and not the all-encompassing apps they once were. It’s still conceivable that Apple can reinvigorate those efforts. Sure, not a lot of people bought a Mac because Shake ran on it, but what if your goal isn’t Mac sales, but iPhone sales from things made on those Macs? You can justify spending money on pro software for Macs if it significantly improves the availability of media for the devices you make profit off of.

Not to mention, you can also partner with Adobe to make specific Mac focused tools that simplify production for Apple’s video service. Fill out some metadata fields, and push the one-click publish button, and your feature film is in iTunes Connect ready to go. Easy as YouTube[^1]

[^1]: Not really, I imagine that Apple would want to review the content in some fashion. It’s a family-friendly company. It would be interesting to see who would be responsible for securing ratings, or if Apple would come up with approximate, internal ratings. What could go wrong?

There are also production services Apple can provide. A limiting factor for many independently produced films, and web series, is the money to buy the right infrastructure for their project. Some of that is physical equipment, some of it is software, and some of it is craftsmanship others provide. It’s very expensive to hire a VFX house to do your greenscreens, add fire, muzzle flashes, and blood hits. They have infrastructure costs, and people they need to keep staffed. What if Apple had a service for connecting these artists so they could do work for one another? Even a booking schedule? Someone like me could be available for compositing work, and deliver assets through an Apple pipeline, even review, and track time for billable hours. That’s not off-the-shelf software, and it’s not something YouTube, Vimeo, Amazon, or Netflix provides. There’s so much friction in film and television production that has to do with infrastructure and manpower issues. Poof, Appled-away.

Finally, the biggest tool Apple can wield with any of their services is promotion. They select apps for promotion on iOS, and the Mac App Store (to varying degrees of profit). They select films and TV shows to appear in those categories of the storefront. Apple Music taps select artists for playlists, and to appear on Beats 1. Imagine a showcase of independently produced material. Many people jump at the chance to be seen, or have their work seen.

The part where Apple might get tripped up, is what terms they set for their generous help. Exclusive streaming to Apple’s service? Forever, or for a window? What physical rights do they have? You’ll notice Apple hasn’t taken the book publishing world by storm with iBooks Author. All the best tools and services don’t amount to much if you can make more money elsewhere (or at least the perception that you can).

If you don’t like working with the established parties, and you can’t outright remove them, slowly increase the relevance of other parties, diminishing your reliance on the established ones.

Back to Reality

Apple’s totally just going to release TVKit which will let companies build rich-media apps to showcase individualized, branded streams of content, bundling some expenses together, and we’ll have new-cable, via Apple. More like what Apple Pay did for credit cards, than what Apple Music has done for music streaming.

But when we wake, it’s all been erased, and so it seems, only in dreams…

2015-07-08 08:15:00

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